Obtain a Crude View Through POSCO

Valuable insight comes in many forms.

The world's steel producers provide a most crucial conduit for timely insight into telltale economic activity, but they each go about it in their own characteristic style.

ArcelorMittal's (NYSE: MT  ) Lakshmi Mittal encouraged investors with talk of green shoots at an industry gathering in mid-2009, while Nucor (NYSE: NUE  ) CEO Dan DiMicco countered in his characteristically straight-talking style: "You don't know if those green shoots are poison ivy or corn." More recently, steelmaker Commercial Metals (NYSE: CMC  ) held no punches with its own timely glimpse of the U.S. industrial complex.

With a contrasting style, Korean steelmaker POSCO (NYSE: PKX  ) delivers its quarterly insight with very little verbiage, preferring instead to let the data speak for itself. Because the stakes are so high, this data is simply required reading for every investor. Let's get down to numbers.

POSCO's net income fell 16.8% compared with the previous quarter because of weakness in the Korean currency. Compared with the prior-year period, however, earnings rose 177.5% thanks to strong demand at home and among emerging markets. Crude steel production rose 17.3%, while exports of finished products declined 4.4%. Among the noteworthy sources of domestic demand is Korea's bustling shipbuilding industry; POSCO raised its 2010 outlook for the industry by 15%.           .

Looking to all-important China, POSCO confirms that China's growth in steel production outpaced growth in demand through much of the first half. China's steel inventories remain elevated (at 15.7 million tons in June), export volumes are on the rise  compared with the previous quarter. Imports of iron ore and met coal may have also gotten ahead of themselves, and a recent decrease in spot prices for both of these hot commodities has been felt by producers around the world. Nonetheless, undaunted by Peabody Energy's (NYSE: BTU  ) failed bid to acquire met coal resources in Australia, POSCO recently acquired a 70% stake in a mine that will secure 1.3 million tons in additional annual supply.

Importantly, despite all the fear that recent signs of moderation in China's growth rate have caused, POSCO actually raised its outlook for full-year Chinese steel demand growth to 8% from 7%.

Globally, steel demand is forecast to grow at a 12% clip for 2010, with China alone accounting for 47% of the total. Although U.S. demand is expected to grow at a respectable 27% clip, this compares with the torturously low demand of 2009. If these projections hold true, U.S. steel demand would remain 25% below that of 2008, whereas China's uninterrupted growth will put its demand about 35% ahead of 2008 levels.

As POSCO has done, I will let the numbers in this case speak for themselves. I invite you to help your fellow readers to interpret them according to your own macroeconomic outlook by posting your comments below.

Fool contributor Christopher Barker is the Nat King of Coal and the wild boar of iron ore. He can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly in the Motley Fool CAPS community under the user name TMFSinchiruna. He tweets. He owns shares of Nucor and Peabody Energy. Nucor is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. POSCO is a former Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a stainless disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (6)

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  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2010, at 6:57 PM, Starfirenv wrote:

    Strongman- +1 rec for your first sentence.

    It may be worth noting POSCO's investment in GMO's Moly mine , right here in the Silver State. That should "pan out" well for some time. I own both.

    Seems you've been outsourced in the PM dept. Big mistake. Always enjoy your stuff. Appears you have an "Irish" angel on your team and I completely "got it". Regards.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2010, at 7:38 PM, XMFSinchiruna wrote:

    Starfirenv,

    Most TMF contributors write pieces covering myriad sectors and topics outside of their core focus areas. It's nothing new to have several people contributing content about gold, but rest assured I am the lone Fool tracking this market on a daily basis with a fine-toothed comb, and the only one assigned to cover the pm mining companies. I have outsourced to no one. :)

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2010, at 10:54 AM, Megagem wrote:

    I did spend seven years of my career in the steel industry but that was many, many years ago.

    Steel is not an homogeneous commodity. Steel statisitics, especially the Chinese data, have to be interperated with extreme care.

    For instance hot rolled products are very different in physical characteristics and markets from cold rolled product and both are very differnet from plate etc.

    I ubnderstand that China has excess producion capacity in the cheaper commodity types of steel - hot rolled coil in particular.

    China is reported to be trying to rationalise the industry by encourging the clousre of the smaller producers, particularly the mini-mills producing hot rolled steel from scrap using electic arc process.

    They are reporterd to be stimulating investment in the higher grade products.

    I understand that the reduction in export tax rebates on the cheaper lower spec products rather than the higher spec products is aimed at this rationalisation.

    While growth in Chinese domestic demand for hot rolled products and lower spec steels may be crutailed, demand for higher spec steels appears to still be growing hence Posco's forecast.

    Be very careful in forecasting Iron ore demand and price. Demand is more highly correlated to cold rolled products and plate etc - bast furnace products - than hot rolled products from mini-mills which have a higher usage of scrap. This segmentation is not absolute by any means.

    And yes there has been a fall off in the price for iron ore in the last month or so but dont make too much of this relatively small decline- the price it is stilll way ahead of the market price of last year.

    What we can take way from POSCO's excellent presentation is that the steel industry - particulalry the big four companies- are alive and healthy and recovering strongly.

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